Art Therapy Graduate Programs

At the graduate level, an art therapy degree is a course of study that blends coursework in visual arts, psychotherapy and counseling methods. Students enrolled in art therapy graduate programs often take classes in appraisal techniques as well as creative media. Many art therapy programs prepare students to meet licensed professional counselor, registered or board certified art therapist requisites.

Art Therapy Degree

Earning an Art Therapy Degree

When earning an art therapy degree, students will learn how to use multiple visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms) and other creative processes to help people heal. Classes teach the science of imagery and therapeutic aspects of color and show students how to assess people's work. Students may learn to apply theories and techniques of human development, psychology, and counseling. Consequently, learning the practice of art therapy requires a mix of knowledge and skills such as how to listen, how to have an orientation to help others, and how to think critically.i

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an integrative counseling discipline that focuses on the therapeutic use of art. Students will learn to use the creative process to explore how people feel or resolve personal conflicts. The artwork that is produced is assessed by the student so they can learn to help people heal in appropriate ways. Healing could mean anything from how to manage (addictive) behavior patterns, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, and develop interpersonal skills or insight.


Art and art making are inherently perceptually and sensory based and involve the brain and the body in ways that verbal language does not.iii

Art Therapy Degree Requirements

Most accredited art therapy degree programs at colleges and universities require applicants to submit a portfolio of artwork and a transcript of graduate or undergraduate course credits in studio art and psychology.iv To that end, courses such as Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology Personality Theories, and Developmental Psychology may be preferred. Other material that art therapy graduate programs may ask for could include the items below.

  • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution (a bachelors in Psychology or in a specified fine art may be required)
  • Masters degree, post masters clinical experience, research (PhD in Art Therapy)
  • Letters of reference
  • Written statement of purpose or essay
  • Minimum GPA determined by school
  • Personal interview

Art Therapist Educational Requirements

Per the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), a Masters degree in Art Therapy is required for entry-level practice in art therapy.i Most accredited graduate art therapy programs devote their course of study to theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy. While each art therapy school may have a distinct point of view, some common themes stand out.iii

  • Ethics and standards of practice
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Individual, group, and family art therapy techniques
  • Human and creative development
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Research methods

Art Therapy Practicum

Graduate art therapy degree programs usually include a practicum. This means observation and practice for course credit. Art therapy students may also need to complete an internship, in which they gain supervised experience under a current art therapist as they work with clients or patients. ii These experiences may take place in clinical, community, and/or other settings.

Art Therapy Masters Programs

Some Art Therapy Masters programs are offered as a Master of Science or Master of Arts in Counseling with a concentration in Art Therapy. Course of study could involve about 60 credits, although this varies. Credits may be allotted to a sequence of core topics in mental health counseling theories along with biopsychology, interview techniques, psychopathology, and ethics. Also, several courses cover the art therapy major. Art-based assessment and art therapy counseling methods are a few samples. Other graduate programs in art therapy might spotlight the student’s own personal growth and may offer more courses in the use of visual arts and artistic processes.

Art Therapy PhD Programs

PhD in Art Therapy programs are terminal, research degrees. They are often designed for current art therapists who are drawn to scholarly pursuits and academic leadership. Students may be required to complete about 48 credits of required courses, self-directed studio art work, a dissertation, and a practicum. This practicum may be in either teaching, research, clinical supervision, or advanced clinical practice.

Find Accredited Art Therapy Graduate Programs

The current educational standards for AATA approved art therapy masters programs were established in 2007 and were overseen by the Educational Programs Approval Board (EPAB). This is in transition although the course of study requisites is still in place. In 2017, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accreditation Council for Art Therapy Education (ACATE) now cooperate with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) to establish, maintain and promote appropriate standards of quality for Art Therapy degrees and programs. Also, some programs may be accredited by the Council for Accreditation and Related Educational Program (CACREP). Since state laws vary, it is good practice to check with a state license board to see whether your program meets their approval for licensure.

How Long to Complete a Degree

Full time students may take about two years to complete their Art Therapy degree. In addition, while licensure requirements vary by state, students may be required to complete about 2000 to 4000 hours of post degree supervised clinical experience (internship or residency). Also, counselors and therapists must pass a state-recognized exam.ii

What Is an Art Therapist?

A registered Art Therapist (ATR) is a mental health professional who has earned at least a Masters in Art Therapy degree from an accredited program. And, has completed post-graduate clinical hours under the direct supervision of a credentialed art-therapist. Masters degree graduates might then work toward Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) stature. This is the highest credential in art therapy, and may be awarded after a successful completion of the national examination.

Art Therapy Career Outlook

Art therapists work in a variety of locations – hospitals, rehab facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, and private practice are among them.iii Per the BLS, there are two categories that art therapists might belong to. The first is ‘recreational therapists’ and the second is ‘mental health counselors’.

  • On both fronts, employment is projected to grow from 2014 to 2024: 12 percent for Recreational Therapistsv and 20 percent for Mental Health Counselors ii
  • In May 2015, the median annual wage for Recreational Therapists was $45,890 and for Mental Health Counselors was $41,880 ii

Take the Next Step

Combine your creativity with solid counselor skills. Look through paid programs to find an Art Therapy degree that aligns with your goals. Refine your search results to find art therapy graduate schools in a specific city, state or country. Or, earn your Art Therapy degree online to help you juggle study with work and lifestyle.

All you do is send a form with the on-page button to reach the schools on your list – it is easy and efficient! Take that next step now.

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